Immigrants from Mexico bring holiday celebrations, traditions to Collier

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Scenes from the procession for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over 500 people came together to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the New World, by walking in a procession along U.S. 41 in East Naples to St. Peter The Apostle on a recent Wednesday evening. Our Lady of Guadalupe is Mexico's patron saint and her feast has been celebrated for centuries.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE, Copyright: Greg Kahn / Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Scenes from the procession for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over 500 people came together to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the New World, by walking in a procession along U.S. 41 in East Naples to St. Peter The Apostle on a recent Wednesday evening. Our Lady of Guadalupe is Mexico's patron saint and her feast has been celebrated for centuries.

Other holiday traditions from around the world that also could be part of the seasonal celebration in Collier and Lee counties:

■ The Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as an act of obedience to God, was celebrated in late October this year.

■ The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. Celebrated around the world, Hanukkah was observed for eight nights earlier this month.

■ Boxing Day, traditionally the day after Christmas, is observed in Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and some other nations. Its origin is as a day when servants and tradesmen received gifts from their superiors.

■ Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture for many blacks in the U.S., is Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

■ Three Kings Day is celebrated on Jan. 6 in many Latin American countries and Spain. It is the day of the three kings, or magi, falling 12 days after Christmas. It is often viewed as the last day of the Christmas season. In Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and Uruguay, youngsters leave out their shoes before they go to bed at night on Jan. 5, in hopes of getting gifts and toys from the kings.

— Draped in a light blue veil that skimmed her ankles, 15-year-old Aday Porras sat ramrod straight atop a chocolate-colored donkey, walking down Golden Gate's streets after dark every night last week, a gaggle of carolers in tow.

"Si me ven, si me ven, voy camino de Belen," the group, 200-strong, sang in Spanish Tuesday night. "If you see, if you see me, I'm on my way to Bethlehem."

Las Posadas, a Spanish tradition carried by colonization to Mexico, continues in Collier County on the nine nights before Christmas through a group of immigrant families from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church.

Led by a battery-powered Star of David and a manger scene carried by four people, two teens re-create the Biblical tale of Joseph guiding Mary in search of a posada, or inn, en route to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

After more than a decade in the country, many Mexican parents have banded together — often through churches — to re-establish the traditions they grew up with for their U.S.-born children in Southwest Florida. It is never more public than around the winter holidays, when the feast day for Mexico's patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, falls the week before the Posadas begin.

Mexicans remain the largest Hispanic group in Collier, though the Latino population is increasingly diverse.

The turnout for Las Posadas is largely families of Mexican origin, though organizer Carlos Montiel said there is more interest from other nationalities.

"There are people who don't know the tradition but like it, (so) they bring their kids," said Montiel, a native of Mexico's Distrito Federal who moved to the U.S. 13 years ago.

"It's also to bring the community together more, since there are a lot of people who don't know much about our community, or even that there is a Hispanic movement here," he added.

He wants his 2-year-old daughter to know where her family comes from, even if she's never been there.

"There are some of our children who don't know our culture," he said, carrying her through the procession.

So, as the head of a men's group at the church that organizes events for the Spanish-speaking community, he helped start the first formal Posadas in Golden Gate last year.

That's when the group pitched in $250 to buy their donkey, named Peter Garcia, who dictates the speed at which the procession moves. In a petulant mood, he takes longer, walking a few steps and bucking back.

Aday keeps a solemn face, unfazed that the donkey seems to want her off. But when the donkey is calm, the group moves along at a quick clip, as families in houses along the route watch from their front doors, or pressed against the living room window.

For Aday, who joined her mother and siblings in the U.S. last year after being raised by her grandmother in Puebla, Mexico, Las Posadas is a cultural touchstone.

"I like it because in Mexico, we would do it every year," the Golden Gate High School freshman said. "I thought that here we wouldn't be able to still do those traditions, but when they started with Las Posadas (last year), I was like, OK, yes, we're going to be able to continue those traditions (and) not lose them."

The processions aren't for the rushed. It's an evening of activities that can start as early as 6:30 p.m., though the procession departure time depends on when the guitar players, organizers, singers, or actors get there, or when there is an undetermined quorum of faithful.

Grandmothers and babies, young parents with strollers, or those who come alone walk around the block, which can take 10 minutes to half an hour, singing the same three or four carols down streets with few lights. Some nights there are real candles, others are battery-powered.

Each night, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 23, a different family hosts the event, setting up space in their yard and supplying food for everyone after the ceremony, and games for the children, including a pinata. (On Dec. 24, the last night, families generally celebrate alone at home.)

When the procession finishes, the group stops in front of the host family's home and, in a song, requests room at the posada, Spanish for "inn." They are, according to the Bible, turned away night after night.

And so the group congregates on the hosts' driveway, or in the backyard, to recite the Rosary, surrounding the teens portraying Mary and Joseph, before the small nativity scene that was carried throughout the procession.

Since the Posadas began in Golden Gate last year, the Porras family has become a mainstay, with one of Aday's four brothers playing Joseph the first time.

The three older siblings in the family were born in Mexico, while the two youngest were born in the U.S., so she explained to her little brothers about Las Posadas.

"(It's) so that we don't lose that tradition," said her mother, Ada Porras, who helped organize the event through the church along with Montiel.

* * * * *

A week earlier, another Mexico-born mother crept along U.S. 41 East at the wheel of her white pickup truck, alongside a much larger, long procession than the Golden Gate Posadas.

For the annual tradition of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a procession both religious and patriotic, Maritza Hoyos had her daughter, son and four godchildren dress in costume. One teen girl played Mexico's patron saint, flanked by two others playing angels, and one of the boys playing the role of Juan Diego, the child to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have appeared.

Even though she tries to inculcate Mexican traditions in her U.S.-born children, she said they remain "very, very American."

Just before sunset on Dec. 12, 500-600 people walked the three miles from Naples Manor to Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Rattlesnake-Hammock Road in East Naples in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

A 25-member troupe in costume performed Aztec dances as four women led the procession carrying a statute of the Virgin, headed to an evening Mass in Spanish for the feast day.

The group started out small, with about 40 people at a house on Jennings Street, but at each intersection more joined, some wearing T-shirts with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, others carrying prints or statuettes in her image.

"I teach my children the history, and I tell them this isn't a play, this is a Biblical experience," said Hoyos, who moved to the U.S. as a student from Mexico's central state of Jalisco in 1989. "I am very, very Catholic, and a devotee of the Virgin Mary. And if I can't go back to my town (in Mexico), I can bring something from my homeland to the Mexican people here."

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Comments » 1

get_involved writes:

Mexicans are such backward people. They are still living in the past and are soooooooo predictable. Not real bright people.

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